Living in San Diego really spoils you with weather. The joke is that it is always sunny and 70 degrees. It’s not quite like that, but pretty close. At least 9 months out of the year are like that, the other 3 months are a combination of overcast, some rain, and sometimes dropping below 50 degrees. Being in San Diego for 5 years and enjoying that level of sunshine and summertime weather, it was time to scratch an automotive itch that I had since my teen years. It was time to spoil myself and get a convertible. My wish list for my convertible was short. Relatively new, V8, RWD and a manual transmission. In my budget, that meant either a Mustang or a Camaro. Since I had been driving Ford’s for the previous 10 years, it was pretty much a given I would be getting a Mustang. That Mustang turned out to be a 2001 Mustang GT convertible.
[First modification, new Mach 1 replica wheels.]
Even though I had already started my search for a Mustang, my partner James ended up getting his 2001 Bullitt Mustang (COAL) first. That meant having to sell his Excursion (COAL) before we could afford to get my convertible. While the Excursion was listed on Autotrader, I continued to search for my perfect Mustang. With all my research and dreaming, I would have been happy with either a True Blue, Oxford White, or Electric Green color. What I really wanted was Mineral Gray, a color available starting in 2001.
[The only flaw is visible here, that crease just before the rear wheel.]
After just a few weeks of looking, I located the exact 2001 Mustang GT I wanted with very low miles from a private seller. Mineral Gray exterior, Bullitt rims, Premium trim package, and a 5-speed manual transmission; all the boxes were ticked. I contacted the seller and set up a time to meet her for a test drive. When she pulled the car out of the garage, it was gorgeous. I knew this was my car. Dropped the top and we took her for a spin. She informed me that this was her fun car, only used on long trips and really nice days. It had low miles because most of her commuting was done in her ‘94 Festiva. We hit it off and talked in depth about why I wanted the car, why she was selling. I explained my predicament of having to sell the Excursion first. Without taking a deposit, she told me that she would hold the car for me until I was able to buy. She knew I would take good care of her baby, and she wanted me to have her.
[First set of stripes.]
I kept in touch once a week, and after about a month we finally made the deal. As I drove away from her house with the top down, I had “Mustang Sally” blaring from the stereo. It was a great day for me. We now had His & His Mustangs. The sound of that V8 with the top down was music to my ears. It wasn’t as loud as James’ Bullitt Mustang, but it was still there. The inside of the car was very familiar to me, after driving James’ Bullitt and being in Fords for so long. I loved the dual cockpit style interior, which was modeled after the original Mustang interiors. It was retro, without being overtly retro. The car drove very well, although it wasn’t as tight as the Bullitt was. There was some slight cowl shake. After reading about so many convertibles it was something I expected. Given how some of the reviewers talked about the Mustang and how old it was, I actually expected a lot more than it was. I would have considered the platform very rigid and nice, but I wasn’t driving BMWs back to back to compare. The gear changes weren’t what I would call light, but not out of line for a performance car.
As happy as I was to finally have a convertible, it wasn’t long before I started down the road to modifications. (I can’t even locate any photos I took of the car in it’s stock configuration.) A Mach 1 convertible is what I really wanted, but Ford only offered the Mach 1 on the hardtops. It was those retro touches of flat black stripes and the Shaker hood scoop that I wanted. Since Ford didn’t make one, I figured I would make my own (or something similar). First up was a set of 18” Mach 1 replica rims and B.F. Goodrich g-Force KDW2 tires (best tread pattern ever). The wheel pockets were painted, and the color was almost an exact match for the Mineral Gray exterior.
[1 1/2″ drop, Mach 1 spoiler and grille, Bullitt side-scoop deletes.]
While it would be awhile before I could do a full Mach 1 treatment, it still looked too plain and similar to all the other Mustangs out there. I ordered and installed (myself) a set of dual LeMans stripes and Mustang GT side stripes. On went a Mach 1 chin spoiler and a Mach-1 grille delete kit. On the sides, I replaced the prominent side scoops with the smooth side panels from a Bullitt Mustang. The springs were replaced with Ford Racing Performance 1” lowering springs. At the rear, I painted the panel between the taillights a semi-gloss black and topped it off by replacing the GT badge with a old-school styled V8 badge (this particular one came off an Explorer). To round out my mods, I installed a set of sequential taillights. Every Mustang should have sequential taillights.
[My very first car show.]
That was the end of what I considered “Phase 1”. During this time, I entered my first car shows. The first one was a Mustang car show put on by Saleen, which was located about 90 miles north in Orange County. My second show was a month later, the San Diego Mustang Club’s “Mustangs by the Bay” car show. This all took place soon after the new retro-styled 2005 Mustangs had come out, so this show was all about those cars. The 2005+ class outnumbered the 99-04 classes by about 3-to-1. My car didn’t place in either show, but I did have a blast talking with everyone about their cars as well as my own. I invited the original owner to the show in San Diego, and she loved seeing all the changes done to her baby.
One day I was fortunate enough to be browsing eBay when I ran across a Mustang Mach 1 hood for sale. The hood had been damaged and repaired, but not repainted. I was the winning bidder and the hood was shipped to me. The Mach 1 Mustangs all came with the DOHC 4.6L V8, shared with the 1999-2001 Mustang Cobra. All regular Mustang GTs had the SOHC engine. From being a member of several Mustang message boards, I knew of an adapter kit that would allow me to mount the 2003-2004 Mach 1 shaker scoop to the 2-valve engine in my car. That kit was produced by Kar Kraft, the same company that assembled the 429 Boss Mustangs in 1969 and 1970.
Since I knew the hood would need to be going to a body shop to be painted, I wanted to perform another modification I had been contemplating. I purchased the rear bumper from a 2003 Mustang Cobra (also from eBay). The shape of the bumper was different than that of the GT, convex vs. concave. Not wanting to be a poseur, I filled and smoothed the COBRA name embossed in the rear bumper. I took the car to a local body shop and had the hood and bumper painted. After a couple of weeks, I removed the rest of the white stripes. A flat black Mach 1 hood stripe was installed. Flat black Mach 1 style side stripes were installed, without the Mach 1 lettering. I installed a set of tri-bar Pony Mustang badges to replace the GT badges on the front fenders.
[Bullitt instrument cluster, DVD radio, interior trim painted to match the body.]
Now that the exterior was complete, I turned my attention to the interior. I installed a new touch screen DVD stereo system. With some of the left over paint from the body mods, I painted a few of the interior pieces. The center console and HVAC trim, climate control knobs, and the upper defroster vents were now color-matched to the exterior. Both the Bullitt and the Mach 1 had the retro font gauges, the only difference being the higher redline for the DOHC engines in the Mach 1. It took some searching, but finally located a Bullitt cluster and installed it. When I did that, I also installed a set of retro chrome rings around the gauge faces. I topped off the car with the custom plate “SHAKR GT”. Several months later I installed a full cat-back Borla exhaust system. I studied so many sound clips of exhaust systems before settling on the Borla system. It was a little bit more pricey, but I wanted that sound. This is what has started my love affair with Borla exhaust systems.
The modifications on my Mustang were subtle, but unique. I didn’t want a very flashy show car, but wanted something uniquely mine. Most people saw it as just another Mustang, but other Mustang owners knew that it was something different and special. Just what I wanted to create. I never saw another like it.
[Shaker scoop on engine, model car replicating my own.]
After getting the car where I wanted to visually, it was now time to flex some muscle. I decided to take my car to the track and see what I and the car could do. San Diego hosts an event at Qualcomm Stadium called Race Legal. It is designed to offer an inexpensive, local alternative to street racing. A ⅛ mile drag strip is set up on the west end of the parking lot. $25 entry fee, and you are able to run as many passes as you want. With the Mustang I finally felt like I had a car that was up to the task. What a rush it was! I was definitely hooked. Depending on the staging lanes, I would be randomly paired up against a variety of cars. Hopped up Hondas, stock Corvettes, diesel pickup trucks, hot rods, muscle cars. I was pitted against everything. It was more about racing my own time, but a lot of fun. I took the Mustang out to Race Legal about a half dozen times while I owned it.
[Custom smoothed ’03 Cobra rear bumper, Shaker GT license plate, Borla exhaust.]
Ever since I purchased the car, I had joined the Great Autos of Yesteryear car club. Soon after finishing the Shaker GT modifications, a call went out for convertibles needed to parade dignitaries for the San Diego Gay Pride parade. I jumped at the chance, and I could not have been paired up with a more perfect dignitary. The gal assigned to my car was the San Diego Volunteer of the year. This little retired lady strolls up to my car in 4” heels and a huge red feather boa, I knew we were going to have fun. While all the other convertibles just cruised along quietly, I made sure we were heard. As we crawled along the parade route, I was constantly revving the engine and making lots of noise with my car. She absolutely loved it, she kept pushing me to “make some noise!”
As I had with all my previous cars, I took care of all the regular maintenance myself. Working on the Mustang was really easy. Oil changes were taken care of every 5,000 miles. One day the car wouldn’t start. After a little troubleshooting, I traced it to the fuel filter. Located forward of the gas tank, it was still an easy piece to replace. The only maintenance item I did not perform was the clutch replacement. It is something that I could have done myself, but I decided I didn’t want to expend the effort. That was it, never had a problem with the Mustang.
When I purchased the car in early 2005, she only had about 25,000 miles on her (~6K miles per year). After 2 ½ years of ownership, I had driven her up to about 75K miles. Around this time, I started contemplating selling the Mustang to get another car. I had just received the 1977 Dodge Aspen “Party Wagon” from my parents, and my attention had turned to it as my project car. Gas prices in southern California were really starting to skyrocket. For a V8 convertible, the Mustang got decent gas mileage in the 20-22 mpg range (thanks to that manual trans). I thought I could do better. I started shopping around for a more sensible car, one that got better gas mileage and one I wouldn’t be tempted to modify. Then I could focus all my efforts on the Party Wagon. As with all my other car purchases as an adult, I determined what I wanted and then went out to find it.
After purchasing my “sensible” car, it was time to sell the Mustang and focus on the Party Wagon. My ex-girlfriend from high school had come to San Diego to visit, and she loved riding around in the Mustang. When she heard I was selling it, she followed in my footsteps and said it was time to spoil herself. She and her dad flew out to San Diego, and drove off taking the Mustang to Albuquerque. At this point, both of our Mustangs ended up in Albuquerque. She’s owned it since then, and I have even driven it a few times when visiting Albuquerque. Once she started a family, it was parked in the garage and rarely driven. She just recently sold it, and I was given the first opportunity to purchase it. Since I had already moved on from convertibles, I declined. I’m sure the new owner is enjoying the wind in their hair cruising around with the top down as much as we did.